Perceived obesity causes lower body satisfaction for women than men

October 14, 2016, Karolinska Institutet
This is an image of a weight scale. Credit: CDC/Debora Cartagena

'Owning' an obese body produces significantly lower body satisfaction for females than males, scientists have found.

In the first study of its kind investigating healthy individuals and their when perceiving themselves as either slim or obese, psychologists at the University of York and Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm found that the way we perceive our bodies directly triggers neural responses which can lead to dissatisfaction.

To create a sense of illusory body ownership, participants wore a and observed a video of an obese or slim body from a first person perspective, so when looking down the body appeared to belong to them. Scientists then prodded the participants' torso with a stick in synchronisation with the video, eliciting a vivid illusion that the stranger's body was their own.

Monitoring brain activity in an fMRI scanner, scientists found a direct link between activity in the parietal lobe of the brain – relating to body perception – and the insular and , which controls subjective emotional processes such as pain, anger or fear.

Such research helps to shed light on why sufferers of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa can be affected by a distorted perception of their body as overweight, when in reality this is biologically inaccurate.

Investigating healthy individuals allows researchers to examine the link between perception and emotion without the possibility that body starvation could affect biological results, as is the case when studying those with eating disorders.

Dr Catherine Preston, Lecturer in York's Department of Psychology and lead author of the study says: "In today's Western society, concerns regarding body size and negative feelings towards one's body are all too common. However, little is known about the neural mechanisms underlying towards the body and how they relate to body perception and eating-disorder pathology.

"This research is vital in revealing the link between and our emotional responses regarding body satisfaction, and may help explain the neurobiological underpinnings of eating-disorder vulnerability in women."

Henrik Ehrsson, Associate Professor at Karolinska Institutet and co-author of the study, adds: "We know that woman are at greater risk at developing eating disorders than men, and our study demonstrates that this vulnerability is related to reduced activity in a particular area of the frontal lobe – the anterior cingulate cortex – that is related to emotional processing."

Explore further: It takes two minutes to change your perception of body size

More information: Catherine Preston et al. Illusory Obesity Triggers Body Dissatisfaction Responses in the Insula and Anterior Cingulate Cortex, Cerebral Cortex (2016). DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bhw313

Related Stories

It takes two minutes to change your perception of body size

July 8, 2016
A new study from Macquarie University has found that people's perception of their own and other people's body weight can change in as little as two minutes.

Patients with anorexia feel less bodily pleasure

March 11, 2016
Patients with anorexia nervosa perceive physical touch in social interactions as less pleasurable than healthy people of the same age, reveals new research by University of Hertfordshire PhD student Laura Crucianelli. The ...

Outside the body our memories fail us

March 10, 2014
New research from Karolinska Institutet and Umeå University demonstrates for the first time that there is a close relationship between body perception and the ability to remember. For us to be able to store new memories ...

Psychological technique helps women who have bulimia

January 20, 2016
Researchers from the University of Granada have proven that there are two psychological techniques that help reduce body dissatisfaction and its associated symptoms in women with bulimia nervosa, both of them based on the ...

Abnormalities found in 'insight' areas of the brain in anorexia

July 19, 2016
Abnormalities in brain regions involved in forming insight may help explain why some people with anorexia nervosa have trouble recognizing their dangerous, dysfunctional eating habits.

Brain size may signal risk of developing an eating disorder

August 22, 2013
New research indicates that teens with anorexia nervosa have bigger brains than teens that do not have the eating disorder. That is according to a study by researchers at the University of Colorado's School of Medicine that ...

Recommended for you

WHO recognises 'compulsive sexual behaviour' as mental disorder

July 15, 2018
The World Health Organization has recognised "compulsive sexual behaviour" as a mental disorder, but said Saturday it remained unclear if it was an addiction on a par with gambling or drug abuse.

How looking at the big picture can lead to better decisions

July 13, 2018
New research suggests how distancing yourself from a decision may help you make the choice that produces the most benefit for you and others affected.

Nature is proving to be awesome medicine for PTSD

July 13, 2018
The awe we feel in nature can dramatically reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to UC Berkeley research that tracked psychological and physiological changes in war veterans and at-risk inner-city youth ...

Is depression during pregnancy on the rise?

July 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—Today's young mothers-to-be may be more likely to develop depression while pregnant than their own mothers were, a new study suggests.

Machine learning helps to predict the treatment outcomes of schizophrenia

July 12, 2018
Could the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders one day be aided through the help of machine learning? New research from the University of Alberta is bringing us closer to that future through a study published ...

Mental illness study to explore patients' self-assessments

July 12, 2018
As the mental health community pursues new ways to improve the lives of the severely ill, a University of Texas at Dallas researcher is focusing on what can be learned from patients' answers to a simple question: "How do ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.